I’m sure my team will win a game eventually. Actually, I’m not all that sure, but it doesn’t really matter.
“Twenty seconds!” someone yelled from the sideline. I had just snatched a rebound under the other team’s basket. Everyone was already down-court, and I stood alone, holding the ball. Time started to run out.
“Seven ... six ... five ...”
I dribbled across half court, where a short, muscular man with a shaved bald head and tribal tattoos up both arms waited for me with his arms outstretched. My teammate ran up to him and set a pick. I dribbled right, but the illustrated ball of muscle shoved his way through the pick and got back in my face. I picked up my dribble and looked for someone to pass to. Nobody open. Now I was in trouble: no time to pass to a better shooter, no dribble to get a better shot. Way outside, with a man in my face, the clock ticked down.
“Four ... three ... two ...”
I lifted the ball and pump faked. My inked nemesis bit on it and jumped too soon. Success! I jumped up as he came down. As I rose up, I cocked the ball over my head and threw it to a teammate who wasn’t looking. The ball sailed out of bounds.
That's when it dawned on me: I am the worst basketball player on the worst basketball team in the worst basketball league in New York City. Really? Could this be possible? The realization was soul crushing, so I examined the facts.
LET’S START WITH THE league. The Word bookstore in Greenpoint sponsors this league. The bookstore sits across the street from a popular pickup-game court, and the store manager is a hoops fan (and a bit of a baller on the court, herself). A friend of mine had captained a team in this league the last three seasons. He invited me to join his team with the promise that the league wasn't competitive and was "a little nerdy." Just right for an out of shape 34-year-old who gets winded climbing the subway stairs.
The orientation session for the Word league provided further proof of his claim. The players are required to complete a literary quiz before joining. I not only aced it, but caught players sitting around me copying my answer to the question: "What does N.B.A. mean for writers?" After turning in our quizzes, we were briefed on the rules. Rule number one: Don't be an asshole.